Where You Can Still Hike in the Columbia River Gorge
The Eagle Creek Fire of 2017 had an enormous impact on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. We all watched in horror as some of Oregon’s most well-known and picturesque trails burned, and still wonder if we will ever see them again as they were in our lifetimes.
While Angels Rest, Eagle Creek, Herman Creek, Larch Mountain, Mount Defiance, Triple Falls, and Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls are still closed, there are still plenty of scenic hikes that show off the Gorge’s beauty you can do this spring.
DISTANCE & CONFIGURATION: 5.2-mile out-and-back for upper section, 4-mile out-and-back for lower section, 6.3-mile loop (when open)
ELEVATION CHANGE: 1,350′
SEASON: Upper loop open year-round, with possible snow and ice in winter; lower loop closed February 1–July 15
BEST TIME: April and May for wildflowers, October for fall colors
CONTACT: Friends of the Columbia Gorge, gorgefriends.org; Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, 541-308-1700, www.fs.usda.gov /crgnsa; Cape Horn conservancy, capehorn conservancy.org
LOCATION: Cape Horn Trail at the intersection of Salmon Falls Road and Canyon Creek Road, east of Washougal, WA
THIS IS ONE of the newest trails in the Columbia River Gorge, and it’s easy to see why it has become so popular. You can enjoy spectacular views of the Columbia from high up on the hill or just 200 feet above a riverside railroad, and in between you have a pleasant walk through forest and rolling-hill countryside reminiscent of a stroll in Europe.
DISTANCE & CONFIGURATION: 6.9-mile loop
ELEVATION CHANGE: 2,800′
SEASON: Year-round, but occasional snow and ice on top
BEST TIME: Mid-May–early June
CONTACT: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, 541-308-1700, www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa
THIS IS PROBABLY the most popular of the real hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge—“real” meaning it requires some real effort. But with an easy-access trailhead, great views of the river, and sunshine and wildflowers at a time when it’s usually still raining in Portland, it’s no wonder everybody on Earth comes here.
It seems that every hiker around Portland has been up Dog Mountain or at least heard about it. Climbers use it as an early-season conditioner. Wildflower enthusiasts flock to it in early summer. In spring, when it’s still raining in Portland, it’s often sunny here. And while staggering up the hill is tedious enough, it can be even more so when 500 people are coming back down toward you.
Tom McCall Preserve
DISTANCE & CONFIGURATION: 3.5-mile out-and-back for McCall Point Trail, 2.5-mile balloon loop for Rowena Plateau
DIFFICULTY: Easy for Rowena Plateau Loop, moderate for McCall Point due to the climb
ELEVATION CHANGE: 1,070′ to McCall Point, 100′ for Rowena Plateau
SEASON: May–November for McCall Point, year-round for Rowena Plateau Loop
BEST TIME: April and May
CONTACT: Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, 541-308-1700, www.fs.usda.gov/crgnsa; The Nature Conservancy, 503-802-8100, tinyurl.com/tommccallpreserve
THIS PLACE IS in a different world from most of the hikes in this book. It’s a glimpse into central Oregon, a land of wide-open vistas, grass blowing in the nearly constant wind, and semiarid forests of oak and ponderosa pine. It also boasts panoramic vistas of the Columbia River and Mounts Adams and Hood, and more than 300 species of plants, some of them unique to the Columbia River Gorge.
This one is more than 60 miles from Portland, even as the crow flies. But it’s truly worth the extra bit of easy driving, especially in the spring and early summer. At those times of the year, there is a kind of rain shroud somewhere between Cascade Locks and Hood River; while it’s still pouring in Portland, places like the McCall Preserve are bathed in sunlight and carpeted in a few dozen kinds of wildflowers all blooming at once.
For more hikes in the Columbia River Gorge, pick up a copy of the updated guidebook, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald.
For the affected hikes, you will have to check with OregonHikers.org, the Forest Service, and Friends of the Gorge for the latest conditions and openings. Paul Gerald will also keep updates on his website. It may be years before these trails are back as we knew them pre-fire, and some may not return. Then again, more may be built.
To support and perhaps help with construction and maintenance, check with Trailkeepers of Oregon.